The Mar-Keys

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Not to be confused with The Bar-Kays, a mid-1960s instrumental soul/funk band.

The Mar-Keys, formed in 1958, were an American studio session band for the Stax label from Memphis, Tennessee, in the 1960s. As the first house band for the label, their backing music formed the foundation for the early 1960s Stax sound.


The group began as The Royal Spades and had tried unsuccessfully to get a record made for the local Satellite Records even though tenor sax player Charles "Packy" Axton's mother and uncle owned that label. When they were finally able to get a record made, Axton's mother Estelle Axton convinced the group to change their name and they chose The Mar-Keys.[1]

They also recorded organ and saxophone oriented singles of their own, scoring a number-three hit nationally with "Last Night" in 1961.[2] It sold over one million copies, earning gold disc recognition.[3] Keyboards were played by Jerry Lee "Smoochy" Smith.[3] Other singles of theirs from the early 1960s include "Philly Dog" and "Popeye Stroll." Members of this rhythm section later formed other nationally prominent Memphis studio session groups, including the Memphis Horns, the Packers, and Booker T. & the M.G.'s. Each of these offshoot groups also recorded popular instrumental albums of their own, in addition to serving as the backing band on albums by dozens of rock, R&B, and soul music stars on Stax, Volt and other national labels. In the second half of the 1960s, the Mar-Keys name was used whenever the three members of the Memphis Horns teamed with Booker T & the MGs in live performances. (The two groups shared billing on a live album in 1967, Back to Back, from a concert in Paris.) The legacy of the Mar-Keys and later groups was that of having been key players in the development of soul music styles like Southern soul and Memphis soul.

The Mar-Keys recently[when?] regrouped with a lineup consisting of former M.G. Lewis Steinberg, original members Floyd Newman, Smoochie Smith, Don Nix, Terry Johnson and Wayne Jackson and original member Packy Axton's son Chuck.[4]






  1. ^ Soulsville, U.S.A.: The Story of Stax Records - Rob Bowman, Bowman, Robert M. J. (Robert Maxwell James) - Google Books. Retrieved 2012-11-12. 
  2. ^ Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 96. CN 5585. 
  3. ^ a b Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 137. ISBN 0-214-20512-6. 
  4. ^ Patrick Montier. "STAX TODAY 18". Retrieved 2012-11-12. 

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